While a well-timed post card campaign in Australia helped push the government of France to consider closing the world’s biggest coal-fired generating station, it remains to be seen whether Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will make the same choice when it comes to a network of coal mines and power plants in Germany.
Both cases involve coal-fired generation, community action, and energy companies that are owned in whole or in part by governments.
In Australia, Environment Victoria collected thousands of post cards in advance of the 2015 United Nations climate summit in Paris, urging the French government to phase out the Hazelwood coal station. The plant belongs to Engie, a giant utility that is partly owned by the government.
Under the banner “Greetings from Victoria!”, the post card showed a photo of a cresting fire, with insets of a firefighter in full gear and the Hazelwood plant. “Australia has many lovely places to visit,” read the card, addressed to French President François Hollande, but “Hazelwood isn’t one of them.” In 2015, “the Hazelwood mine caught fire for 45 days, creating the wall of flame pictured on the front, and covering the homes of 15,000 people in toxic coal ash.”
A reporter with France’s national broadcaster picked up the post cards and handed them to Climate Change Minister Segolene Royal while cameras rolled. “On air, the Climate Minister said Engie and the French government would ‘disengage’ from Hazelwood by selling or closing the power station. It made news around the world,” states an Environment Victoria video. Now, the group is pushing for a “clear timeline” for the phase-out and a plan to support the surrounding community.
A similar story is taking shape in Sweden, where “the government-owned energy company, Vattenfall, is demanding the sale of its coal mines and power plants based in Germany to a Czech company, EPH,” writes Mae Boeve of 350.org. “The deal includes some of Germany’s largest coal mines—and three of the top 10 most polluting coal plants in Europe.”
The problem, Boeve explains, is that EPH is a “deeply unattractive buyer” that is “hell-bent on burning as much coal as possible.”
That leaves Löfven with “a stark choice,” she notes. “On one hand, he could approve the sale of the most climate-destroying assets in Europe, breaking his own election promises in the process. Or he could promote a transition to keep coal in the ground—and support a liveable climate.”
The large majority of Swedes oppose the sale of brown coal (lignite), and all the country’s political parties have promised to prevent mine expansions. But EPH “has proved to be faceless, brandless, shareholders-less, unaccountable—and already responsible for 6% of European power sector C02 emissions,” Boeve writes. The purchase and sale could add a billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, 24 times Sweden’s annual emissions.